watching sixth grade kids on an elementary school playground when she made a simple but insightful observation about their behavior: The boys weren't spending much time talking to each other. They were too busy with sports and games. And they seemed to be having a great time. The girls, meanwhile, were huddled in conspiratorial pairs, chatting away. From the looks of things, they didn't seem to be having much fun.
For Rose, a University of Missouri research psychologist, it was one of those "a-ha!" moments when the evidence at hand arranges itself in new and creative ways. Her playground observations have inspired a series of major studies that are offering provocative new insights into the inner workings of friendships among children in their "tween" years.
Rose's key finding is that girls who spend time mulling over their problems with close friends may end up increasing their feelings of depression and anxiety rather than relieving them. And this process, which Rose named "co-rumination," could spell trouble for at least some of these girls.
Rose's findings run counter to the conventional wisdom about the benefit of close friendships to an emotionally healthy childhood. Her ideas are so novel that she was invited to make her case on "Good Morning America" and has been featured in the pages of the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
The originality of her work has also been winning her good reviews from within the academic community. In the International Journal of Behavioral Development, William Bukowski, an expert on the psychology of peer relations, and two of his colleagues at Concordia University in Montreal refer to Rose as a creative researcher who has contributed new understanding of children's "social and personal experiences with peers, parents and siblings."
Rose was perceptive enough, Bukowski says, to see the potential problems of social behaviors others have failed to notice. "To the casual observer, co-rumination might appear to be a pleasant, supportive process, which would make it a process that could be easily overlooked as a contributor to negative outcomes like depression."
Psychologists and most everyone else, for that matter, have generally viewed friendships among children as a good thing. The stronger and closer the friendships, the better they were. And girls, most typically, are the children who have these close friendships where feelings are shared and problems are worked out.
"We have messages in our society that if you let your feelings out you'll feel better," Rose says. "I think it is easier for girls to think that if talking about their problems makes them feel good, then talking about their problems a bunch will make them feel even better. This was really held up as an ideal of friendship; it was even held up as superior to the friendships of boys."
But while looking at those glum female faces at the playground, it occurred to Rose that some girls may be getting too much of a good thing: That talking about problems to an extreme might lead to emotional distress.
One pair of girls on that playground was focused on a boy whom one of them liked. Did he like her, they wondered. Who was he talking about?